The Big East is celebrating its 35th year at Madison Square Garden, so it was only right to hold the event on the floor of the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden - the place where the legend of the Big East and of Chris Mullin blossomed.
Early in the day, joined by a panel of esteemed colleagues including three-time NCAA Tournament champion Jim Calhoun and two time Big East coach of the year, PJ Carlesimo, Mullin reflected on what it meant to him to be a member of the Big East as a player, and now as a coach, calling it “one of the best conferences out there”.
But the former three-time Big East player of the year Mullin is now trying to leave a lasting impact on the conference as a head coach.
For his first season, Coach Mullin and his staff has to assemble a roster quickly over the spring and summer of 2015; it resulted in the team going (8-24) and just (1-17) in conference play against the Big East. The team lacked consistency and talent to compete and at one stretch during the season they lost 16 straight games.
Some would call his first season a throwaway, given the empty roster when he took the helm. But the Red Storm still need to show progress.
Reflecting on his rookie season as the St John’s head coach, Mullin stated that “your patience is tested. The day-to-day philosophies are tested because you want to speed up the process, but you can’t.”
But amid the struggles that the team endured last season, Mullin says that it was necessary. “One year later you see the development of these young guys,” he continued, “their confidence, bodies changing.”
The ceiling for the Red Storm has definitively been lifted with the offseason recruiting and development of the returning players such as forward Kassoume Yakwe and guard Federico Mussini. St John’s also added one of the best junior college players in forward Bashir Ahmed who will provide depth and scoring at the position.
In a game that is dominated by guard play, most are excited to see the Red Storm’s new backcourt tandem of true freshman Shamorie Ponds and redshirt freshman Marcus Lovett. Mullin praised LoVett, who was not able to play during the 2015-2016 season due to NCAA regulations and was also limited in practices due to an injury, as a mature and good pass-first point guard. The New York native Ponds is seen as a shoot-first point guard that is also a willing passer.
Mullin believes that bringing in the dynamic Ponds can only help the team with recruiting. The 6’1 scoring machine who won preseason Freshman of the Year gives the Red Storm an improvement in the backcourt and along with the development and maturation of the returning players could provide the program with more wins than last season. Mullin believes that “when a team succeeds it attracts [recruits], probably more than anything else [does].”
It is safe to say that there is a buzz around the program for the start of the season. The Johnnies have added talent but must show that they can be consistent throughout the course of the season.
Year two of the rebuild should be an improvement from last season and it will give insight to the kind of Coach Chris Mullin is, or can be.